Air Force con­firms PFCs at high level

Of­fi­cials pledge to con­duct fur­ther probes that may an­a­lyze hu­man health risks.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Bruce Fin­ley

FOUN­TAIN» Wa­ter providers and res­i­dents south of Colorado Springs chafed as the Air Force on Tues­day un­veiled a nine-month study ver­i­fy­ing that fire­fight­ing foam used at Peter­son Air Force Base con­tam­i­nated wa­ter and soil with toxic per­flu­o­ri­nated chem­i­cals at lev­els more than 1,000 times higher than a na­tional health ad­vi­sory limit.

Air Force of­fi­cials pledged to con­duct fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tions that, some­time af­ter 2019, may in­clude anal­y­sis of hu­man health risks. This ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion fo­cused on con­tam­i­na­tion at the base. The spread of con­tam­i­nants to where tens of thou­sands of peo­ple live re­mains a mys­tery, the of­fi­cials said.

Colorado De­part­ment of Public Health and En­vi­ron­ment lead­ers have said the state was wait­ing on the Air Force for in­for­ma­tion on how far and how fast PFCs have moved. El Paso County and CDPHE of­fi­cials at a public meet­ing here Tues­day night said their agen­cies lack money to track the PFCs mov­ing in ground­wa­ter at un­known con­cen­tra­tions south to­ward Pue­blo.

“It makes me re­ally an­gry that it has taken them this long to get some num­bers — and more than a lit­tle con­cerned,” said Foun­tain City Coun­cil mem­ber Greg Lauer, who has been field­ing calls from anx­ious res­i­dents for a year. “We and our ratepay­ers are go­ing to be

deal­ing for a very long time with this prob­lem we did not cre­ate.”

Se­cu­rity Wa­ter and San­i­ta­tion Dis­trict man­ager Roy Heald said his agency spent $3.6 mil­lion on pipe­lines and pur­chases of al­ter­na­tive clean wa­ter sup­plies af­ter mu­nic­i­pal wells were con­tam­i­nated but has yet to re­ceive a promised $800,000 in re­im­burse­ments from the Air Force.

“Our need is im­me­di­ate. It is fi­nan­cial. And we need to get back to be­ing able to use our well wa­ter,” Heald said.

Air Force en­gi­neers found PFC con­tam­i­na­tion of ground­wa­ter at the Peter­son base east of Colorado Springs reached lev­els up to 88,000 parts per trillion, and that soil con­tam­i­na­tion reached as high as 240,000 ppt, based on test­ing of 23 wa­ter sam­ples and 33 soil sam­ples at seven sites on the base. They con­firmed that the use of aque­ous film­form­ing foam, or AFFF, which helps put out fuel fires, led to runoff of the PFCs into wa­ter tapped by tens of thou­sands of res­i­dents south of Colorado Springs but said they do not know to what ex­tent it has spread or how long it will last.

The Air Force in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­port — more than 600 pages — also blamed other un­spec­i­fied sources of PFC con­tam­i­na­tion, re­it­er­at­ing the stance mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have taken in the year since news or­ga­ni­za­tions re­vealed that PFCs had con­tam­i­nated mu­nic­i­pal drink­ing wa­ter sup­plies.

“PFCs are found widely in the en­vi­ron­ment to­day, and there are likely other con­trib­u­tors to the con­tam­i­na­tion,” the re­port sum­mary says. “As we con­tinue our work with the public wa­ter sup­pli­ers in the Foun­tain, Wide­field and Se­cu­rity area, we will study re­me­di­a­tion steps, as other po­ten­tial con­trib­u­tors are in­ves­ti­gated.”

The re­port’s find­ings — “that ac­tiv­i­ties at Peter­son AFB have im­pacted en­vi­ron­men­tal me­dia” — were promised a month ago.

Air Force en­gi­neers in Oc­to­ber be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing to de­ter­mine sources of the PFCs that state and lo­cal wa­ter tests had shown to be spread­ing from the base, in­clud­ing an area where fire­fight­ers trained. PFCs have been linked to health harm — low birth weights and kid­ney and tes­tic­u­lar can­cers — but public health epi­demi­o­log­i­cal work in Colorado has not been done. A se­nior Pen­tagon of­fi­cial an­nounced that the Air Force would spend $2 bil­lion on PFC cleanups na­tion­wide.

The EPA in May 2016 set a health ad­vi­sory limit for two types of PFCs at 70 ppt based on the lat­est sci­en­tific stud­ies of what could be harm­ful to peo­ple and the planet.

Air Force en­gi­neers in­ves­ti­gat­ing at Peter­son found that PFCs from fire­fight­ing foam also had con­tam­i­nated ir­ri­ga­tion ponds at a golf course at high lev­els. “A com­plete hu­man ex­po­sure path­way ex­ists for golfers and golf course main­te­nance per­son­nel ex­posed to sur­face wa­ter,” the re­port says.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment does not reg­u­late PFCs, which also are used to make prod­ucts such as stain-proof car­pet, non­stick cook­ware and grease-re­sis­tant fast­food wrap­pers.

The same prop­er­ties that make PFCs use­ful snuff­ing fires pre­vent them from break­ing down in the en­vi­ron­ment.

They rank among the worst of hun­dreds of un­reg­u­lated chem­i­cals that fed­eral sci­en­tists are de­tect­ing na­tion­wide in drink­ing-wa­ter sup­plies, in­clud­ing hor­mones, pes­ti­cides, an­tibi­otics and an­tide­pres­sants.

Air Force Civil En­gi­neer­ing Cen­ter team leader Cor­nell Long said mil­i­tary fund­ing for en­vi­ron­ment work on this prob­lem is se­cure for now. An ex­panded site in­ves­ti­ga­tion to be com­pleted next year may in­clude data about con­cen­tra­tions of PFCs be­yond the base. Long also said the Air Force will honor its com­mit­ments to re­im­burse com­mu­ni­ties south of Colorado Springs with a to­tal of $4.3 mil­lion.

“This is an Air Force-wide is­sue. As good stew­ards of the en­vi­ron­ment, and want­ing to do the right thing for com­mu­ni­ties, it is im­por­tant that we con­tinue to work at this,” he said. “There is still more work to be done.”

The con­tam­i­na­tion lev­els doc­u­mented in Colorado “are very sim­i­lar” to lev­els found at other air bases around the na­tion and abroad, he said. “What makes it dif­fi­cult here is the wide range of con­tam­i­na­tion we are see­ing on the base — and the in­for­ma­tion we do not have on how the con­tam­i­na­tion might move.”

A CDPHE web­site shows the con­tam­i­nants have spread south be­yond Wide­field, Se­cu­rity and Foun­tain through the Foun­tain Creek wa­ter­shed. In April 2016, ground­wa­ter sam­ples taken south of Foun­tain along Hanover Road showed PFC con­tam­i­na­tion higher than 100 ppt.

State tests for PFCs in drink­ing wa­ter have not been done since Novem­ber, CDPHE records show. And the CDPHE hasn’t mea­sured PFCs in ground­wa­ter since Fe­bru­ary, the records show.

On Tues­day, Tyson In­gels, CDPHE’s lead drink­ing-wa­ter en­gi­neer, said agency of­fi­cials “are not do­ing any tests now. We don’t have the funds to pay for any test­ing.”

El Paso County health spokes­woman Danielle Oller said the county also lacks fund­ing to track PFC con­tam­i­na­tion, but that pri­vate well own­ers want­ing tests will be re­ferred to the Air Force for pos­si­ble help.

“They need to be test­ing the wa­ter,” lo­cal farmer Su­san Gor­don said, adding that a fil­ter pro­vided by the Air Force may be los­ing its ef­fec­tive­ness.

Gor­don and scores of other res­i­dents of Foun­tain, Se­cu­rity and Wide­field have turned to buy­ing bot­tled wa­ter.

“It is a ma­jor frus­tra­tion,” said Deb­o­rah Stout-Meininger, 63, a res­i­dent of Foun­tain for 20 years, who sup­ple­ments her So­cial Se­cu­rity in­come with work at a

“This is an Air Force-wide is­sue. As good stew­ards of the en­vi­ron­ment, and want­ing to do the right thing for com­mu­ni­ties, it is im­por­tant that we con­tinue to work at this.”

Cor­nell Long, Air Force Civil En­gi­neer­ing Cen­ter team leader

truck stop but finds the $40 a month ex­tra she pays for wa­ter a bur­den.

“And I get re­ally para­noid now,” she said. “I worry about whether I am drink­ing safe wa­ter or not.”

Hy­oung Chang, The Den­ver Post

Agen­cies hosted a wa­ter open house at Jan­itell Ju­nior High in Foun­tain on Tues­day.

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